Repository logo

Marking practices and the making of the Qin Terracotta Army

Accepted version



Change log


Li, X 
Bevan, A 
Martinón-Torres, M 
Xia, Y 
Zhao, K 


A striking feature of Qin material culture (770-210 BC) in ancient China is the frequency with which it preserves stamped, incised or painted marks with a variety of Chinese characters, numerals or symbols. In a general sense, such repeated mark-making was an administrative strategy that enabled Qin administrators to mobilise people, raw materials and finished goods in vast bulk, subject to careful quality and quantity control, and archaeologically, this strategy is nowhere more obvious than in the manufacturing feat constituted by Emperor Qin Shihuang's mausoleum and his Terracotta Army. This study considers the production marks associated with both the terracotta warriors and their accompanying bronze weapons from a new perspective. We compare and contrast the marking practices on these two very different kinds of artefacts, devoting close attention to what this implies about workshop organisation or the operational sequences behind their manufacture. We also assess the location of such signs on their parent objects as well as their wider spatial distribution across the pit as a whole, ultimately with a view to understanding craft organisation and project logistics during this crucial early phase of empire-building in China.



Terracotta Army, Bronze weapons, Marks, Artisans, Spatial analysis, Craft organisation, Imperial logistics

Journal Title

Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title